|Many followers of World Theater
feel that in the last few years, the Slovenian cultural scene has been the most
dynamic and intriguing in post-"Berlin Wall Europe." The latest of that
scene to reach our shores will be the American debut of Theatre Mladinsko from
Ljubljana, Slovenia, in "Silence Silence Silence," an imagistic, movement-based
work in five visual "sequences" directed by Vito Taufer.
La MaMa has been America's primary entry point for many exciting, brash, young
theater groups from Central and Eastern European countries, but the debut of Theatre
Mladinsko has been a source of particular anticipation for insiders there. The
excitement stems from the three times since 1994 when Betontanc, another young,
impertinent movement theater group from Ljubljana, Slovenia, took La MaMa's Annex
Theater--and American audiences--by storm with a series of hard-hitting, high-risk
"Silence Silence Silence" is an extraordinary and beautiful work of
dream images, anthropological fantasies and myths. It debuted in 1996 in Ljubljana
and was awarded Special Prize of the Jury in that year's Bitef Festival (Belgrad,
Yugoslavia) and Grand Prize in the 31st Borstnikovo srecanje in Maribor, Slovenia.
The play is divided into five episodes of imagistic, slow-motion movement theater,
each staged with a delicate soundscape that includes heartbeats, air sounds and
soft instrumental music. With keenly skillful movement, six actors "break
through" silence, both real and metaphorical, in elaborately-designed scenes
that nearly defy realistic description. In each scene, the characters are only
partly human. A man with a cephalic globe mask (the sky or sun?) appears to unite
with the earth (creation?). In a subsequent image, filaments or wings appear
on him, suggesting the struggle to evolve out of a cocoon, possibly insinuative
of evolution (anthropologic or political, we are not sure). A mother earth or
Lilith figure with bulging eyes, wrapped in Aluminum foil, shatters the silence
with her piercing voice. A lumbering man appears to experience the primal apprehension
of beauty. A brick wall (the wall of time?) shatters around a man who has broken
through it. The man, his mask like the letter A, leaps about defiantly, smashes
rocks together, then seems anguished as he rants and howls. Overall, there are
hints of the pain of awakening from darkness--the darkness of inertia, totalitarianism
Vito Taufer, a resident director at Mladinsko Theatre, is well-known and highly
respected in Europe. With "Silence Silence Silence," he intended to
invent a language of abstract theater that was not realistic or mimetic, but rather
a "poetry of images" that could be read in different ways, as with written
poetry. Slovenia, Taufer explains, has a strong German/Russian tradition of "theater
as history or politics," but he strove to distance himself from that. He
wanted his actors to be collaborators from the beginning and not "readers
of texts." He began the project by giving each of them two weeks to create
a mask through which the audience would be able to grasp their essence as performers.
Says Taufer, "a performer's language is him or her, on stage, their presence,
and I wanted to catch that." He says his job, in the beginning, is to watch
for their subconscious messages.
Another powerful influence on the piece was a widespread feeling among Slovenes
during the recent Yugoslavian conflicts: the idea that "we are condemned
to be separated" and "whatever we do, there will be an infinite silence
and distance between us." Taufer sensed that Sarajevo, after the bombings,
dwelt somewhere "in a hole, completely isolated, lonely" and that "indescribable,
terrible things were happening there and there is nothing you can do or say about
it." The situation recalled Hamlet's statement, "The rest is silence."
From that notion, the title was born.
"Silence Silence Silence" debuted in Ljubljana in February, 1996, and
won for Mr. Taufer both The Borstnik Award and the Special Award of the jury at
BITEF Festival, Belgrade. It has since toured through Europe and South America.
O Estado de Sao Paolo, Brazil perceived the play as embodying "a silence
that bears within itself the rage of the universe." El Pais, Spain, called
it "...fantastic elements of black theatre elevated into surrealism and fused
with the brutality and experimental heritage deeply marked with neoexpressionistic
dance, centered towards total art, serious and deep." Other provocative critiques
called it "the staging of the breath" (Delo, Slovenia), "a journey
into eternity" (Vecer, Macedonia), "the dark and inexpressible essence
of human existence (Makedonia, Greece) and "as if it were from another world"
(Ekstra Bladet, Denmark).
Taufer's direction and other experimental theatre creations have been awarded
four gold laurels at MESS Festival, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He won
the Preseren Fund Award for stage direction in 1989 and 2000. His comedic productions
have earned the Best Comedy Awards at Days of Comedy Festival, Celje, Slovenia
and the Golden Laughter Award in Zagreb, Croatia. He was born in Ljubljana in
1959, and is a graduate of the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television
there. Before the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Taufer directed in theatres
of all the republic. His most recent work, "Drrream," premiered in
2000 at Mladinsko Theatre.
Mladinsko Theatre has been at the peak of the Slovenian theater scene for more
than two decades. Its politically provocative, beautifully imaginative theater
experiments have earned it a special national significance and an outstanding
international reputation. The company consciously innovates new theater styles
and has been highly influential, both in Slovenia and throughout the former Yugoslavia.
Its prominence has validated Slovenian theater in Europe and the world.
The actors of "Silence Silence Silence" are: Janja Majzelj, Janez Skof,
Uros Macek, Natasa Sultanov, Ravil Sultanov and Robert Prebil. "Body language"
is by Marko Mlacnik. "The sound of silence" is by Marinka Postrak. "The
sound of space" is by Rae Smith. "The covering of nakedness" is
by Alan Hranitelj. Music by W.A. Mozart is played by pianist Bojan Gorisek. Darkness
design is by Benjamin Ormerod and Matja Brisar. Make-up designis by Barbara Pavlin.
Sound design and montage are by Silvo Zupancic. Stage manager is Janez Pavlovcic.
NEW YORK TIMES, MARCH 20, 2001
Mladinsko at La MaMa"
By JENNIFER DUNNING
Visual imagery and
sustained physical theater were the hallmarks of Theater Mladinsko of
Slovenia, which presented Vito Taufer's "Silence Silence Silence"
on Sunday night in an American debut season. The central conceit of the
piece, which is divided into five sequences set to roaring, thudding
and reverberating sounds and an interlude of taped piano music, is breaking
through real and metaphorical silence.
That theme is clearest
in the powerful final section, in which a man (Robert Prebil) breaks through
a wall and moves slowly forward, uttering harshly inarticulate sounds.
Reaching a rock pile, he picks up two stones and begins to slam them together,
then hunches over and begins to weep. Finally he howls into the air, communicating
a terrible helplessness.
The lighted wall through
which he breaks, which suggests a safe and comfortable home, is a magical
image. As visually strong though less ambitious is another sequence
in which an unkempt hulk (Ravil Sultanov) rocks a large crate across
the floor. A huge ball of white tulle pushes out when he rips the box
open. Two long shapely legs and a pretty ballerina's head emerge from
the tulle. Like the mad doll maker in the ballet "Coppélia," the
man brings the woman (Natasa Sultanova) to unexpected life.
Founded in 1955 as
a children's theater, Mladinsko moved into experimental theater in 1975.
Some of the performing needs to be more intensely concentrated. At times
in the other three sequences, one feels less the emotion and presence
than effect and intellectual underpinnings. But each is visually strong,
despite gaudily glowing scenery elements.
The piece will be repeated
through Sunday at La MaMa (74A East 4th Street, East Village).